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Take A Hike: Crater Lake

Crater-Lake-Wizard-Island

Wizard Island

I recently took my third trip to my absolute favorite National Park, Crater Lake. Every time I have visited this National Park, it seems as if every second of every moment is absolutely perfect, and this time was no different. I truly love this place!

Crater-Lake-Group

You would think that after two prior visits the level of awe and excitement surrounding the beauty of this place would diminish, but that was not the case. I had the best weather ever during this visit, as the daytime temperatures ranged from the mid 70s to low 80s during the day. At night, the temperatures dropped into the low 40s; however, this was expected and it made the campfires more enjoyable. Having R to cozy up to in the tent helped as well!

Four really good friends joined us on this weekend excursion. I was the only one who had been previously, and I quite enjoyed playing tour guide!

The pictures that I took on this trip turned out fantastically. I used the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 12.1 MP Digital Camera (Black) that I recently purchased to film my YouTube workout clips. It’s a 12- megapixel camera that also shoots high-definition video in 1080p. Now, I’m just a novice when it comes to photography. I’m really just a point-and-shoot enthusiast. Most of the pictures in this article were shot with this camera though, so keep reading and see for yourself!

About Crater Lake

Crater Lake is located in south-central Oregon amongst the volcanic Cascade mountain range. All of the major peaks in the Cascades were or are still active volcanoes. Peaks you might recognize, such as Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mr. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Shasta are all volcanic, and Crater Lake’s Mt. Mazama was no different.

Mt-Mazama

Mt. Mazama depicted

Around 7, 700 years ago the approximately 12,000-ft Mt. Mazama erupted so violently that it spewed 14 cubic miles of of magma and volcanic ash 10 miles into the sky at almost twice the speed of sound. So much debris exploded out of this mountain that it would have covered all of Oregon 9 inches deep! Of course, there were no walls around Oregon keeping the debris in; therefore, its ash spread out across the entire Northwest and parts of southwest Canada. The ash went so high into the atmosphere that if you drilled ice cores down into the crust in Greenland and Antarctica, you would find evidence of Mt. Mazama’s eruption.

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 is estimated to equal only 1/50th of the Mt. Mazama eruption!

After releasing so much of its insides, the mountain could no longer support itself and collapsed inwards in a matter of hours, reducing the 12,000 ft mountain into an 8,159 ft one and  leaving behind a giant caldera.

Johnny-at-Crater-Lake

Because there are no rivers or streams that flow into Crater Lake, it took approximately 250 years for the lake to fill. The lake is 5 by 6 miles across with an average depth of 1,148 ft. Its maximum depth has been measured at 1,949 ft, making Crater Lake the deepest lake in the United States and the 9th-deepest lake in the world. Despite evaporation and some seepage from a northern area of the lake, the depth stays constant due to an average of 50 feet of snow fall and rain per year.

The water of Crater Lake is said to be perhaps the cleanest water in the world. In fact, on our boat ride in the lake, which I’ll cover more thoroughly in a bit, the ranger guiding the tour actually filled people’s water bottles up for them to drink!

Camping

Due to the large amount of snowfall that Crater Lake gets every year, the Rim Road around the lake does not completely open until late June and will start closing by mid October. Even then, it can get below freezing at night. This short summer season does not keep anyone away. The park hosts over 400,000 visitors a year, so make your reservations early.

There are two campgrounds within the park itself and a grand, rustic lodge:

  • Mazama Village Campground is run by a private company named Xanterra that works in conjunction with the Park Service. It has 200 sites and is open July through mid September. Running water, flush toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings are provided. Reservations can be made by calling 1-888-774-2728 or on-line. Weather can impact the opening and closing dates of the campground.
  • Lost Creek Campground is rustic, has 16 tent sites, and is open from mid-July to early October. This campground is first come, first served only. It is not on the Reserve America reservation system. Again, weather can impact the opening and closing dates of the campground.
  • Crater Lake Lodge is an historic 71-room lodge that originally opened in 1915 and is located on the edge of the caldera overlooking Crater Lake. The lodge is open from late May to mid-October. They start taking reservations up to 13 months in advance.

If you are unable to get a reservation for the time you are able to travel, keep in mind that there are many private campgrounds around the park. I would start by searching around Fort Klamath, 17 miles south of the southern park entrance. Also, the park doesn’t allow all of its campsites to be reserved and holds a number of them for same-day reservations, which can be made by phone. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a phone call first thing in the morning to see if you can snag a site. It is a nice campground, and it’s nice being close to your days’ destinations and hikes.

Additionally:

  • The National Park Service currently charges $10 per car at the entrance gate and $5 when entering by motorcycle.
  • There is no reliable cellular service within the park.
  • Mazama Village has self-service fuel pumps that are available May through October during business hours of the Mazama Village General Store. Currently only unleaded fuel is sold at Mazama Village. Propane is not available inside the park.
  • Pets are allowed on roads, established parking areas, developed campgrounds, and designated picnic areas. However, they must be kept on a leash and cannot be left unattended. Since pets are not allowed on any of the hiking trails, if you are planning on doing anything other than just driving through, I would not recommend bringing them.
  • Summer Backcountry Information
  • Winter Backcountry Information

Hiking

In my 3 trips, featuring 9 whole days in the park, I feel like I’ve done a fair amount of hiking the on main trails around the rim. A lot of the trails are short jaunts off the rim, and many can be completed in a single day. While some may be short, they can still be strenuous due to changes in elevation. It’s worth mentioning that you’ll be starting your hike in areas that are already at least 6,000 ft above sea level. Your lungs and muscles will get worked!

There are over 90 miles of trails in the Park, including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I’ll go over the trails that I hiked on this trip and refer you to links where you can find info on other trails in the park.

Sun Notch Trail

Time: 25 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 0.5 mi
Elevation: 7054 – 7136 ft

View of Crater Lake from Sun Notch

The day after we set up camp, Sun Notch Trail was the first trail that we set out on. This is a short hike that culminates in a stunning view over the lake and a sighting of Phantom Ship. The trailhead is easy enough to find and is just north of Vidae Falls along the East Rim.

Phantom-Ship

Phantom Ship at Crater Lake

Pinnacles Valley Trail

Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.6 mi
Elevation: 5446 – 5577 ft

The-Pinnacles

Pinnacles at Crater Lake

Next, we hiked the Pinnacles Valley Trail. The trailhead is located off of Pinnacles Spur Road, which is just south of the Phantom Ship overlook. The road dead ends into the trailhead and you also pass the Lost Creek Campground along the way. I think that some might be inclined to ignore the dead end road and continue around the rim to see the lake; however, the short drive and walk is well worth it.

Pinnacle-Smashing

JohnnyFit Shoves A Pinnacle Back Into the Earth

The pinnacles are volcanic fumerole vents that were formed by steam and gas seeping up through the valley floor and cementing the volcanic ash around the vents. They are a unique geological feature and interesting to see. Erosion has taken away the surrounding softer materials leaving the pinnacles in place.

Garfield Peak Trail

Time: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 1.7 mi
Elevation: 7090 – 7976 ft

The Garfield Peak Trail was a highlight for me. It was a challenging hike that resulted in spectacular views of the lake and surrounding valleys and other peaks of the Cascades. Also, it was the first time that I had hiked this trail!

Johnny-Crater-Lake

Garfield Peak at Crater Lake

We hiked most of the way with a ranger who provided plenty of details about the surrounding ecosystem and insights into the habits of the pika, who can be found along the trail and which unfortunately we didn’t see.

Garfield-Peak

Crater Lake from Garfield Peak

The ranger stopped his tour at an area where the trail was still obscured by snowfall. He bid us farewell and returned to the lodge. After a brief water break we decided to continue up to the peak ourselves.

Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail

Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.4 mi loop from East Rim Drive; 1 mi loop from park Headquarters
Elevation: 6434 – 6434 ft

After hiking Garfield Peak, we weren’t quite ready to call it a day. We decided to fit in a nice stroll amongst wildflowers on the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail. The trail starts in a wooded area but quickly opens up into a beautiful, spring-fed meadow.

Castle-Crest-Wildflower-Garden

Castle Crest Wildflower Garden at Crater Lake

It was a pleasant way to wrap up a fantastic day before heading back to camp for dinner and beverages!

Cleatwood Cove Trail

Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 1.1 mi
Elevation: 6175 – 6831 ft

The next morning we set off early for the Cleatwood Cove Trail. This is a very popular trail, as it is the only way to reach the water! Despite the destination, this is a strenuous hike due to the 11% grade, and it should not be attempted by anyone with heart, breathing, or walking problems.

Tickets for the 2-hour boat ride can be purchased at the trailhead located on East Rim Drive, approximately four and a half miles east of North Junction. We had intended to get on one of the only two boat rides per day that drop off on Wizard Island. However, we got delayed behind  the annual Rim Run marathon and didn’t make it to the ticket booth in time before those particular boat rides were sold out.

We did however get tickets for the standard tour and had a great time seeing the lake from the unique perspective of being on the water. It is definitely worth doing if you’ve never done it before.

Crater-Lake-Boat-Ride

Crater Lake Boat Ride

You might want to contact Xanterra to arrange reservations. Either way, get there early! Also, once at the bottom of the trail, make sure you wade into the beautiful, clean water or even jump off of Jumping Rock if you’re brave enough!

Standard Tour Schedule (These tours do not stop at Wizard Island):

10:05 a.m.
11:00 a.m.
12:00 p.m.
2:00 p.m.
3:00 p.m.

Wizard Island Tour Schedule:

9:55 a.m.
1:00 p.m.

The above schedules are based upon weather permitting and are subject to change.

Standard Lake Cruise (as of August 2011)

Adult: $29.00
Child (ages 3-11): $19.00
Infant (under 3): Free

Wizard Island Cruise

Adult: $39.00
Child: $25.00
Infant (under 3): Free

The Watchman Peak Trail

Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 0.7 mi
Elevation: 7579 – 7881 ft

The Watchman is my favorite trail from my experience with the park! In my opinion, there is no better place to photograph Wizard Island, the surrounding valleys, and the lake itself. From this peak you are able to look right down on Wizard Island and see the cone and the green tide pools surrounding the island.

Watchman-Peak

Crater Lake From Watchman Peak

This is an active fire lookout and is staffed by rangers during the fire season.

This was our final hike of this day. It was kind of fitting that we saved my favorite for last. After 2 prior days of hiking and taking in views around the lake, the beauty of this place was still stunning to our eyes! As the day was getting long, we gazed in silence over one of the most beautiful and magnificent wonders of nature, and then headed back to camp.

Annie Creek Canyon Trail

Time: 1.25 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 1.7 mi loop
Elevation: 5955 – 5955 ft

The next morning we broke down camp and decided to do one more hike before calling it a weekend. The Annie Creek Canyon Trail is located just behind Mazama Village Campground.

Annie-Creek-Canyon-Trail

Annie Creek Canyon Trail at Crater Lake

This is a beautiful, mostly wooded trail along Annie Creek, which provides the water for the campground. I even took a refreshing sip, straight from the clean, bubbling creek. It only took us about 45 minutes to traverse this loop and take in the wildflowers, trees, and pumice walls of the canyon.

Other Points of Interest

On our way out of the park, R and I stopped at Steel Visitor Center to catch the 21-minute movie about how the Rim Road is plowed every year in preparation for the deluge of visitors to the park, and about how William Gladstone Steel (The Father of Crater Lake) was successful in getting Theodore Roosevelt to designate Crater Lake as a National Park in 1902.

  • Cloudcap is a stunning overlook at Crater Lake and is where Oregon’s highest-elevated road is at 7,900 ft. However, as of August 13th, the road was still closed due to snow.
  • If you are unable or uninterested in hiking the various trails around the lake, the Rim Road is still an excellent place to take in the view and features many overlooks.

Other Trails

Godfrey Glen
Discovery Point
Crater Peak
Mt. Scott

On my previous trips, as I was leaving the park, I felt a sense of sadness at the idea that I might never see it again. This time, I felt content and fulfilled by the time I have spent here. Still, despite having many other places to witness yet in this life, as I explore my health and my world, I know that I would not hesitate to jump at another chance to visit Crater Lake National Park!

The Take A Hike Series:

Take A Hike: The Redwoods
Take A Hike: Columbia River Gorge – Dog Mountain
Take A Hike: Mt. Hood – Cooper’s Spur
Take A Hike: Goat Rocks Wilderness
Take A Hike: John Day Fossil Beds

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